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Senegal government adopts amnesty bill in 'appeasement' bid

By Laurent LOZANO
Senegal Senegal's crisis was sparked by Sall postponing a presidential election that was due to take place last Sunday.  By Amanuel Sileshi AFP
FEB 29, 2024 LISTEN
Senegal's crisis was sparked by Sall postponing a presidential election that was due to take place last Sunday. By Amanuel Sileshi (AFP)

The government of Senegal President Macky Sall on Wednesday adopted an amnesty bill aimed at bringing "appeasement" as the country reels from its biggest political crisis in decades.

Senegal's crisis was sparked by Sall postponing a presidential election that was due to take place last Sunday.

The amnesty, which must first pass through the national assembly, could result in the release of hundreds of people detained during anti-government protests that first erupted in 2021, including leading opposition figure Ousmane Sonko.

A report by Senegal's Council of Ministers, following a meeting on Wednesday chaired by Sall, said the amnesty was proposed by the president in a bid to bring "appeasement in the political space, reconciliation and moving on".

The bill was part of Sall's response to the crisis sparked by his election postponement.

But hopes that Sall might soon set a new election date following two days of "national dialogue" at the beginning of the week were dashed.

Instead the presidency issued a statement saying Sall would ask the Constitutional Council to comment on the recommendations made at the talks on Monday and Tuesday, in which a proposition was made to keep the president in power beyond the end of his mandate on April 2.

One of the main opposition presidential candidates, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, "completely rejected" the recommendations, according to his spokesman Amadou Ba.

'Broad consensus'

Hundreds of political leaders, civil society representatives and religious figures had gathered for the two-day national dialogue meeting in the new town of Diamniadio, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Dakar.

The West African nation, usually a beacon of regional stability, is facing its worst political crisis in decades after Sall abruptly deferred the presidential vote just hours before campaigning was due to begin.

Sall, in power since 2012, said he called off the vote due to disputes over the disqualification of potential candidates and fears of a return to the unrest seen in 2021 and 2023.

The West African nation, usually a beacon of regional stability, is facing its worst political crisis in decades.  By JOHN WESSELS AFP The West African nation, usually a beacon of regional stability, is facing its worst political crisis in decades. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP)

Sall said last week that he would set a new election date "immediately" if there was a "consensus".

The consultations on Tuesday led to a "broad consensus" on various points, several participants told AFP.

Those included elections in either June or July, Sall remaining in office until a new president is sworn in -- likely in July at the earliest -- and that the list of candidates should be re-examined.

The original list of 19 candidates lacked several prominent opposition figures that had been barred from standing.

Seventeen of the 19 candidates approved by the Constitutional Council to stand in the election boycotted the discussions, as did other civil society groups.

The "dialogue" participants have "delivered 100 percent of Macky Sall's order", one of the 17 candidates, opponent Thierno Alassane Sall, said on social media.

Constitutional questions

Sall's national dialogue and the recommendations it gave have not produced any clarity over when elections may take place.

After the announcement of the election postponement on February 3, demonstrations were repressed, resulting in four deaths and dozens of arrests.

But the opposition and civil society struggled to mobilise large numbers of people.

The Constitutional Council on February 15 vetoed the postponement, writing that "the President's mandate... cannot be extended" and that "the date of the election cannot be postponed beyond the term of office".

But participants in the dialogue are invoking article 36 of the constitution, which states that the president "shall remain in office until his successor is installed".

"Macky Sall and his accomplices are forgetting just one detail: if all the political parties in Senegal, civil society as a whole, and the official and unsuccessful candidates were to agree, their consensus would not prevail over the constitution," Thierno Alassane Sall said.

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